House of Commons
Tuesday 19 March 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Answers to Addresses
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House a message from the Queen in reply to loyal and dutiful addresses from this House.
I have received your address about His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales on the occasion of his 70th birthday. It gives me great pleasure to convey to the Prince of Wales the loyal and affectionate sentiments you express.
I have received your Humble Address praying that I should appoint Gareth Davies to the Office of Comptroller and Auditor General. I will comply with your request.
I would like to make a statement about security and access to the parliamentary estate. It is likely that there will be a strike of parliamentary security staff this Wednesday 20 March. Industrial action is due to begin this evening, Tuesday 19 March, and to conclude on the morning of Thursday 21 March. During this time, access to the parliamentary estate for non-passholders will be extremely limited.
Parliament’s priority will be to ensure that the business of both Houses is unaffected. Priority access will be provided to Select Committee witnesses of both Houses and civil servants who are supporting business in both Chambers.
All security staff are highly valued and an essential part of the parliamentary community. Parliamentary authorities are continuing to engage constructively with the union over the issues that were on the ballot and hope to avoid the strike taking place. Should this action take place, I would like to reassure Members that security will in no way be compromised. Security is everyone’s responsibility. I should remind colleagues that it is imperative that we all wear our security passes at all time when on the parliamentary estate. Anyone failing to display a security pass is liable to challenge and may be required to obtain a day pass.
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
The best way to support people is to make sure that they have a job. Today it was announced that more people are employed in our country than ever before. Unemployment has fallen to 3.9%, its lowest since 1975. Our pay rose in real terms over the past year by 1.3%, and over the past year 96% of those new jobs have been full time.
Too often, workers have eight or 10-hour contracts, but are then expected to work up to 60 hours when their employer demands it, with no flexibility in return. One concrete step that the Government could take to protect these insecure workers is to ensure that contracts reflect the hours that people normally work. Will the Minister commit to legislating for this?
I am slightly surprised to hear that from the hon. Lady because she knows that we have taken measures to give workers the right to request that stable contract. She will know that in her own area Bradford Council is a very good exponent of that. It was advertising last night for casual commis chefs, saying that hours are offered on a “casual basis” and may be withdrawn by either party, giving a minimum of two hours’ notice. If she wants those rights to be extended, I suggest that she talk to Bradford Council first.
Can the Business Secretary confirm that there are more people in our nation in secure employment than ever before in our history and that the number of people on zero- hours contracts has fallen by 100,000 in the past year alone?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Obviously, it is a great source of confidence to people that they can obtain a job. It is the case that employers across the country value the flexibility that having a flexible workforce gives. In fact, again, the Labour leader of Gateshead Council said that
“many zero-hours contracts employees”
on the council
“don’t want to be full time employees and prefer to consider themselves as self-employed”,
so this is a practice that is pursued right across the country.
Some 1.6 million workers are paid exactly the national living wage of £7.83 an hour, and a further 3 million people are paid within 50 pence of it. In the spring statement last week, the Chancellor said that the ultimate objective of this Government was
“ending low pay in the UK”—[Official Report, 13 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 349.]
The usual definition of a national living wage is 66% of median earnings, but the remit of the Low Pay Commission is only to get to 60%. Are the Government now committing to end low pay? If so, when?
The hon. Lady should recognise the commitment to 60% and the progress that has been made towards that, which meant a very big pay increase for many of the lowest paid workers in the country. She will remember that the Chancellor announced a review in his statement last week to look into where we go beyond that, using international best practice to inform such a decision. I hope that the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which the hon. Lady chairs, will want to contribute to that review.
I do agree with that analysis and with what my hon. Friend has said. The conclusion of the panel in that completely independent report was:
“To ban zero hours contracts…would negatively impact many more people than it helped.”
It is right to ensure that there is an ability to request a stable contract and that people are not banned from working for different employers, but to remove these contracts all together would be against the practice of many employers, including councils.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. In the last few weeks, I have been discussing with the trade unions how any loopholes that might be being exploited should be closed. It is the intention of everyone across the House that the law should be obeyed and that workers should be paid a fair rate for their work.
A couple of weeks ago, Labour colleagues and I crossed the road to Parliament Square to talk to outsourced Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy workers from the Public and Commercial Services Union and the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, who were demanding equal terms and conditions with directly employed staff. They were disappointed that no Minister from the Department came to talk to them. If anyone had, they would have heard how people’s status as contracted-out workers is a fundamental cause of their insecurity.
We have heard fine words from the Secretary of State about workers’ rights recently, yet here is an example of workers being forced into precarious contracts under his very nose. Will he outline what he is doing to put his own house in order to help resolve this dispute? And, in the process, will he learn the lesson that outsourcing is the cause of insecurity and poverty pay?
I value very highly the work of all the staff in my Department. I met some of the staff she has mentioned, who were affected. I asked my officials to review the comparable levels of pay that such staff receive, and those pay rates have been increased as a result. It was a good and constructive discussion with my much valued colleagues.
Leaving the EU: Businesses in Scotland
I have regular discussions with the Chancellor about support for businesses in Scotland, as well as in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) will know, last Wednesday we announced up to £260 million for the borderlands growth deal, which is a cross-party—and clearly a cross-border—partnership that has been hailed as a game changer by all the bodies involved, including the Scottish Government. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the best way to support business in Scotland is to end the uncertainty that comes from Brexit and to join the Government in agreeing a deal.
Actually, the best support for businesses in Scotland would presumably be for Scotland to stay in the European Union, because IDA Ireland reckons that its country has gained more than 5,000 jobs as a result of Brexit-related investment, so it is a little bit perverse that it seems to be that the countries staying in the European Union are enjoying the benefits that were supposed to come from leaving.
The best chance for Scotland to enjoy prosperity in the future is to stay in the United Kingdom, and I hope the hon. Gentleman would support that. I am very surprised that he would mention jobs in the Scotland when, under the SNP, jobs growth in Scotland has been far behind the good statistics that I was able to give for the whole country. Indeed, if Scotland had matched the rate of job creation in England, there would now be nearly 200,000 more Scots with a job.
An Ernst & Young survey found that only 8% of Scottish firms feel fully ready for Brexit. Does the Secretary of State regret his failure to accept the SNP’s and the Institute of Directors’ demands for a £750 million support service to help small and medium-sized businesses to navigate Brexit?
No. Advice and support are available to every business across the United Kingdom, including, of course, businesses in Scotland. I work very closely with the Scottish Government. They are represented on the groups that are developing the contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit, and businesses are included in that.
In Scotland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, there are grants of up to £1,050 per employee for training employees, and up to £200,000 for new IT systems for dealing with new customs arrangements. Given the importance of this, why is it not more widely advertised both in Scotland and in the United Kingdom?
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. As he knows from the industrial strategy—he was closely involved in its construction—grants and assistance for training, especially for employees whose jobs change as a result of technological change, is a very important contribution that we can make, and I am glad that he has brought it to the attention of the House.
What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about making sure that the UK shared prosperity fund is UK-wide and allows the UK Government to work with public and private partners across the whole of the Union?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is absolutely the intention. The fund will be UK-wide and continue the progress that has been made, not least through the city deals programme. All the major cities of Scotland have benefited from a city deal that embraces the UK Government, the Scottish Government, and local authorities. That is a good model that is working and is successful.
As my hon. Friend knows, I am very pleased to discuss our leadership position in this area. We have led the G7 in cutting emissions while growing our national income. Since 2000, we have topped the global leader board of the G20 in reducing our annual carbon intensity. I set out, a couple of years ago now, how the clean growth strategy will take that progress forward and, indeed, accelerate it. The recent offshore wind sector deal was a fantastic example of how we can work with industry to advance our decarbonisation but also to create jobs right across the UK.
The growth of offshore wind is providing great opportunities for coastal communities around the United Kingdom, including the port of Fraserburgh in my constituency, which is set to host an operations and maintenance base for the Moray East wind farm project. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new offshore wind sector deal will help more ports like Fraserburgh to benefit from this key aspect of our future energy sector?
Most certainly. In an uncertain world, to go and stand on the docks of Lowestoft and visit Great Yarmouth and see the wind turbines and feel the wind is actually to see the future—this incredible opportunity. We have the best conditions for offshore wind generation in the world, and that will create jobs right across the UK—we estimate over 27,000 by 2030. We are world-leading in this: very few countries have even started to install. We reckon that exports of up to £2.6 billion will be available, and of course the benefits from that will flow to coastal communities right across the UK.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Bacon Engineering in Great Grimsby on its 120th anniversary? Will she commit to work with me to assist local companies like that to become part of the supply chain of the energy estuary’s burgeoning offshore wind sector?
The offshore wind sector deal was a gift that kept on giving, because the hon. Lady and I had the great pleasure of discussing that with the Prime Minister on the Friday after the launch and seeing the incredible opportunities already flowing to the wonderful port of Grimsby, which she represents very well. I would love to congratulate that local firm and work with her on this groundbreaking sector deal.
We have known how to build houses that cost nothing to heat for 20 years, but we just do not do it. Does the Minister agree that one of the best ways to get clean growth is to support my Housing Reform Bill, which would supply serviced plots of land on which thermally efficient houses could be built?
My hon. Friend is a wonderful campaigner on this new and exciting area of house building, which is part of the grand challenge. I was very pleased, as I am sure he was, to see the Chancellor commit last week to phase out fossil fuel heating in homes from 2025. We know we can decarbonise. We know we need to do more.
All of us will support the Government in their attempts to deliver clean growth, but we need international action. Can the Minister be more specific about what the Government are doing to encourage international action to increase clean growth?
I enjoyed what might be the last ever meeting of EU Energy Ministers last week, where it was clear that our leadership, which has been so important in the EU, will continue unabated. Countries look to us and want to work with us. The hon. Gentleman will know that we are in the process of bidding to host the 2020 climate change talks here in the UK. To me, that is the most seminal moment since the Paris talks, as we will have to show our national contributions and see whether we are on track. I would love to get his support for that bid.
More than 60 of the UK’s onshore wind farms are set to reach the end of their support deals in the next five years. How will the Government ensure that we do not lose our onshore wind capacity as those plants reach the end of their lives?
I am sure that my hon. Friend, like me, welcomes the fact that we already have more than 13 GW of onshore wind installed. As she says, much of that is reaching the end of its life. Those plants can be repowered to generate more energy, and we expect them to be, but any application must be consistent with what local people want, so I expect developers to work closely with local communities to deliver that.
In spite of what the Minister says, her Government’s nuclear dogma is holding back Scotland’s green growth. Having lost market confidence in the Moorside, Wylfa and Oldbury-on-Severn nuclear projects, will she get the message about nuclear’s terminal decline and start backing Scotland’s renewables growth revolution instead?
The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that we welcome the fact that we have a diverse energy supply. As we have discussed, there are thousands of jobs to be created from renewables but also from our world-leading nuclear installations. We need a low-carbon, reliable, low-cost energy system, and thanks to the work we are doing, we think that over 70% of the UK’s energy supply will be zero-carbon in just 11 years.
The facts are that, compared with offshore wind, the Tory Hinkley project will saddle consumers with a 35% tax on energy bills. Given that this Government currently have no consequences for Ministers who switch policies, is this not the right time to take advantage of that, do the right thing and scrap this nuclear obsession?
I just cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. He might make good headlines, but he knows that we should pride ourselves on having a diverse, low-cost energy system. We have to deliver energy security, and those thousands of highly skilled nuclear jobs, which are increasingly going to women, are a really good thing for the UK.
SMEs in Scotland
We have regular discussions with our ministerial colleagues on this matter, and most recently on the £260 million borderlands growth deal announced by the Chancellor in the spring statement. Our industrial strategy sets out our ambition to make the UK the best place to start and grow a business, and central to that is our ongoing commitment to the British Business Bank, which supported £467 million of finance to more than 3,600 Scottish businesses in 2017-18.
I thank the Minister for his response. He will be aware of the importance of banking services to small businesses, particularly in rural and more fragile areas, and the closure of banks has hit many of these small businesses hard, not least in East Neuk in my own constituency. What action is he taking to look at, for example, increasing transaction remuneration to post offices, which are increasingly important to those businesses?
I understand from the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), that she is currently negotiating the banking framework. I also want to set out the support that the British Business Bank gives to start-up businesses: 3,200 businesses have received £22 million in funding in recent years. We have 48,000 more businesses in Scotland compared with 2010. That is good news, and we need to make sure that we continue to support businesses, particularly the rural ones the hon. Gentleman mentions.
Small Business Support
We are backing young entrepreneurs by launching an independent review, led by the Prince’s Trust, to understand how we can better support them to turn their business dreams into reality. We are backing small and medium-sized enterprises with our spending power, with our ambitious strategy to ensure that at least £1 in every £3 we spend as a Department is spent with smaller businesses by 2022.
I thank the Minister for bringing forward the future high streets fund, which will be really important for small businesses on Mansfield High Street, and for the meetings I have been able to have with the Government about how to make sure that Mansfield can benefit. The council is now consulting with stakeholders on its proposals. Will Ministers agree to meet me so that I can make the case for Mansfield’s bid to the future high streets fund?
My hon. Friend is right. High streets are changing, and the Government are committed to helping communities adapt. In the Budget, we set out our plan for high streets, with a £1.6 billion package to support the sustainable transformation of our high streets, which includes the future high streets fund. My hon. Friend is a passionate campaigner for his town, and I would very much welcome the opportunity to hear his proposals for the regeneration of Mansfield town centre, coupled with the investment and plans already being put in place through the growth deal.
Will the Minister join me in acknowledging the welcome focus the Government have put on tackling late payment to small businesses? Will she confirm that improvement in payment times could release billions of pounds back into the economy to ensure that our SME sector remains vibrant and thrives?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and he is quite right. Tackling late payments will indeed do just as he says. It is true that late payments can be extremely damaging for small businesses, and that is why we are committed to tackling it. In his first year, the Small Business Commissioner has managed to collect over £2 million owed to small businesses. In the spring statement last week, we announced a requirement on audit committees to review their payment practices. I look forward, in the very short term, to bringing forward a full package of policy measures to tackle just that.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to welcome this cut in business rates. He will also be pleased to hear that, because of the updated forecasts from local authorities, the discount is now worth nearly £1 billion to retailers over two years, further bolstering this Government’s plan for the high street, which is now worth £1.6 billion, and directly benefiting some of our smallest retail businesses. My hon. Friend is a great campaigner for Crawley, and I am sure he will continue to ask questions on this subject.
With just 10 days to go to a possible no-deal Brexit, only a third of the small businesses that trade exclusively with Europe have applied for and received their so-called EORI—economic operator registration and identification—numbers that will enable them to continue to do so. Those numbers could be allocated automatically by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Will the Minister lobby HMRC to tell it to do that, and back British business?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. It is true that we are making sure, as this Department is charged to do, that small businesses are absolutely aware of their obligations in regard to a no-deal Brexit. I would point out to him that HMRC is reissuing those numbers within 24 hours of small businesses applying.
Staff working insecure hours for the Hull-based small business Grotto Hire UK, which operates Santa’s grottos, have still not been paid, and many are owed thousands of pounds. The company owner offered to put the company into liquidation so that the staff could claim through the insolvency fund, but his appointed liquidators have now pulled out, leaving the company still running. Will the Minister please meet me to discuss this appalling situation and look at how the company can be wound up in the public interest?
Small businesses and our high streets are hugely damaged by the closure of bank branches right across the country, which nets the banks, which we bailed out with taxpayers’ money, a vast amount of money in savings. Will the Minister consider a windfall tax on the banks to ensure that we redistribute some of that money back into our high streets to support small businesses?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Tax is a responsibility of the Treasury, but as he will know, including after our conversations yesterday—this was also alluded to earlier in questions—post offices are still an important part of our high streets, and the Post Office is currently negotiating a new banking framework. It is absolutely right that, when banks are pulling out of our high streets, the post offices that are delivering the services are remunerated correctly for that.
The duty for large companies to report how quickly they pay their suppliers is of course welcome—80% of businesses that fail do so as a result of late payments—but to be effective, the new duty to report will need some teeth, such as binding arbitration and fines for persistent offenders. This Government’s use of sanctions against the poorest has been disgraceful, so how about using sanctions against some of the most powerful and making sure that large corporations treat their small business suppliers fairly?
Late payments and the way that some large businesses have behaved in the past have been an issue for decades, and it is this Government who are prepared to make changes and bring forward policies to reduce them. We know that late payments can be incredibly damaging for businesses. That is the reason for the Chancellor’s announcement last week about the responsibility of committees to look at payment practices, and I look forward to making further proposals.
UK Space Industry
In the past month we have invested £18 million in the OneWeb satellite constellation to deliver global 5G communications, which I announced at the European Space Agency in the Netherlands. Last week we announced £7 million for the SMILE—Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer—mission. In addition, we announced £25 million for the PLATO—planetary transits and oscillations of stars—observatory mission, and last week we signed the Square Kilometre Array treaty, which will see £180 million invested in the world’s largest telescope.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but will he confirm that the Government remain positive about the potential of a horizontal-launch spaceport at Cornwall airport Newquay? Will he continue to work to provide the support needed to move that development forward, which would be of such benefit to the Cornish economy? Will he also come to Cornwall and see for himself the potential of the site?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question; we had a positive meeting with the spaceport team last week. I am keen to do what I can to progress the hard work that has been done to put together an exciting project. The Government are investing £50 million to kick-start operations for a UK spaceport, including a £2 million fund for spaceports planning to host air-launched rockets and sub-orbital space planes. I will come down to Cornwall next month.
The Government have committed £92 million to developing options for a domestic alternative to Galileo. The UK Space Agency is leading work with the full support of the Ministry of Defence. Contracts are being let with UK companies. Around 50 have made expressions of interest in the process, which will help to keep important skills and expertise in satellite navigation.
The Minister might know that some of the finest engineering companies in Huddersfield are busy providing components for space probes, including the one that went to Mars. Our great town is really on the cutting edge, so will he visit Huddersfield and see what an enterprising, get-up-and-go town can do for small businesses and large businesses? Components come from all over Europe, so will he also come and reassure people who are terrified of what could happen with Europe?
I say to the Minister, who is a serious academic, that I have had the great joy of giving a lecture at the university. It is an admirable institution and they are very hospitable, so I think they will very much look forward to seeing and hearing the Minister.
Not every region of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can be part of the UK space industry, but every region deserves the opportunity for employment. Will the Minister indicate what has been done to ensure that all regions have those employment opportunities?
When we look at our space industry, we see that it is truly part of the United Kingdom, right across every place. I went to Northern Ireland to see Thales and the work that it is doing on some of the satellite applications. Up in Sutherland in Scotland, we have a £31.5 million investment in vertical space launch. We want to ensure that our space industry—one of the fastest-growing industries in all of business—covers the whole of the UK.
Marine Renewable Electricity Generation
It was a pleasure to meet the right hon. Gentleman and a cross-party group of colleagues only last month to discuss this matter. I commend the Marine Energy Council for the work that it has done, and indeed I see that it has published some interesting analysis today. We have provided £175 million of innovation funding to the sector. We all want it to succeed. We have the first pre-commercial array deployed off Caithness and, of course, we have the European Marine Energy Centre in his constituency.
I thank the Minister for the meeting last month. We are now engaging with the Treasury in respect of revenue support for the sector, and any support that she can give it will be very welcome. In the meantime, however, we have the prospect of the energy White Paper. Will she use her offices to ensure that the potential for marine renewable energy generation is fully recognised when that White Paper comes to publication?
I do not want to pre-empt the White Paper, but I think that one thing we will show in it is how the ongoing attempts to be technology-neutral can work across the piece to generate low-cost, low-carbon energy, and highly competitive technologies will be part of that. We remain interested in marine and tidal, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. Of course, we need to discuss with the Treasury any revenue support mechanisms, but I want to continue to engage with the sector on a long-term basis.
The Minister will be aware that the proposed Swansea Bay city deal would include a strong marine energy component centred on Pembroke Dock. She will also be aware that the growth deal is beset with concerns and questions about its progress, so will the Minister, along with Welsh Ministers, please look into the marine renewables part of the project to ensure that progress is made and opportunities are not lost?
Of course, it is striking that we had the very interesting Swansea tidal bid, which would have been the most expensive power station in the UK had we built it, and that that project has now come forward in a different form not requiring Government subsidy. There is huge potential to continue to work with the communities of Swansea and across Wales, and I will be delighted to keep working with them.
Fifty per cent. of Europe’s tidal and 35% of its wave energy resource are in UK waters, but the Government have still not provided the marine renewables industry with a secure route from experimental phase through to demonstrator phase through to full commercial development. Recent research from the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult shows that revenue support could enable marine renewables to create up to 50,000 new jobs and dominate more than 30% of a global market estimated at £76 billion by 2050. Does the Minister accept that the contract for difference auctions are not an adequate mechanism to support emerging technologies such as marine renewables at this stage in their development, and will she take action to provide a competitive funding pool in the energy White Paper to support the UK’s innovative marine technologies and enable the UK to gain its rightful share of this exciting global market?
I will attempt to do that, Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman will know, of course, that all these technologies basically started off in the same place. Arguably, marine and tidal have received more innovation funding. They have not been able to demonstrate a cost reduction pathway commensurate with, for example, offshore wind, but he is right to say that we need to look at ways to try to bring these technologies forward and we will continue to do so.
Industrial Strategy: High-quality Jobs
The industrial strategy is based on increasing the number of high-quality and well-paid jobs because it invests in skills, infrastructure and innovation, as well as building long-term strategic partnerships with businesses through sector deals between the Government and industry.
As my hon. Friend will be aware, we often talk about our being the fifth largest economy, but by GDP per head we are ranked about 23rd or 24th, according to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Does he agree that greater export penetration into growing markets overseas will help to raise that GDP per head and that an independent trade policy could boost that endeavour?
I agree with my hon. Friend. In his own constituency, six companies have received the Queen’s award for international trade. He understands the importance of exports. I agree that the UK needs to deploy all the tools at its disposal to support UK exporters, and a key part of that is tailoring our trade policy to the strengths and requirements of our economy and supporting the delivery of the industrial strategy.
Today’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee report singles out the steel industry as having been particularly failed by the Government’s industrial strategy. On behalf of the steel sector in my constituency, can I ask the Minister when the Government will get back around the table to take action on issues such as energy prices?
I discussed this issue yesterday through the good offices of the all-party group on steel and metal related industries—several hon. Members were there—and agreed to hold a roundtable with all parties, including, I hope, the hon. Lady, to discuss how we can progress the sector deal.
General Electric in Stafford—and indeed in Rugby—provides excellent, high-quality and well-paid jobs through its investment in energy, particularly good energy. Can I invite the Minister or his colleague the Energy Minister to come and see what world-leading technology is being developed in Stafford?
I cannot answer for my right hon. Friend, who is capable of visiting wherever she likes—in fact, she is omnipresent all over the country with her visits—but I would be delighted to visit GE and anywhere else in Stafford my hon. Friend thinks suitable.
It is more than a year since the Government committed to putting as much emphasis on the quality of jobs as on the quantity. In their response to the Taylor review last February, they said:
“We will…report annually on the quality of work in the UK economy…and…hold ourselves to account”.
How much longer do we have to wait for the first assessment of job quality in the UK?
The right measure is to look at carbon dioxide reduction as a unit of national income—the carbon intensity measure—and BEIS will publish its own numbers at the end of May and then make the assessment. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that we have been decarbonising faster than any other G7 or G20 economy and that in the last year for which we have data our decarbonisation rate—on the intensity measure—was minus 4.7%. We know we have to do more, but I hope he welcomes the measures on hard-to-reach sectors, such as decarbonising the heating grid. We should be proud of what we have achieved.
The UN says that we have less than 12 years to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and on Friday thousands of schoolchildren marched for their futures. Given that emissions fell last year by only 1.5%—less than half the 3.2% fall recorded the year before—does the Minister agree with the Environmental Audit Committee that the Government are “coasting” on climate change?
Far from it. I do not recognise those numbers. I have got into trouble before for saying I probably would have been out there with those kids several years ago—I recognise the admirable passion and urgency with which they have raised this matter, although we need their skills to solve this problem. The best way to solve the climate problem is to create a generation of geo-engineers, climate scientists and technologists, and they have to learn those skills in the classroom.
We are absolutely not coasting, but we need strong cross-party support to deliver this change. It is striking that when we debate our relationship with the earth’s climate for the next 40 years, this place is half empty, but when we debate our relationship with the EU for the next three years, it is jam-crammed. We need to get beyond Brexit and start focusing on the future.
The Minister is rightly encouraging the use of electric vehicles, but, as she will appreciate, in the commercial sector there is, on occasion, inadequate supply in the grid. Will she recognise the valuable role played by Off Grid Energy in my constituency, which has storage technology, and whose latest project for the Oxford Bus Company involves capturing energy from solar panels and storing it so that the buses can be charged up overnight?
My hon. Friend—whose constituency is known for its engineering excellence—is absolutely right. As is clear from the smart systems plan for the future and the smart export guarantee, decentralised energy generation storage is one of the ways in which we can maximise the value of electric vehicle roll-out and its contribution to solving the generation and storage problem.
Skilled Green Jobs
As the hon. Lady will know, nearly 400,000 people—more than the number employed in aerospace—are working in the low-carbon economy. As last week’s offshore wind sector deal made clear, the focus on job creation is paramount, but we must also focus more on diversity in the sector, and I am very proud of the commitment by the industry and the Government to ensuring that at least a third of the 27,000 jobs that will be created are going to women by 2030.
Lewisham Council recently declared a climate emergency, and called for urgent action on the environment. Tackling climate change will require a radical transformation of the economy and society, including investment in green industries. Will the Minister match Labour’s commitment to a green industrial revolution creating 400,000 jobs across the country?
I always admire the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm, but committing themselves to a target that we have already achieved is perhaps not the most stretching thing that the Opposition could do. However, I welcome Lewisham Council’s declaration of a climate emergency. My local authority, Wiltshire County Council, has done the same.
I am struck by the sense of urgency in schools and local authorities, and among people throughout the United Kingdom, but we must ensure that the plans we come up with are deliverable and not pie in the sky. Many people have criticised the Opposition’s rather fanciful projections, which they say will never be delivered. I am in the business of delivering policies that add up, can be delivered, and stand the test of time.
Jaguar Land Rover is moving to the production of electric cars, but one of the issues that holds back purchasing is range and the time that it takes to recharge their batteries. What can the Government do to improve battery technology?
Range anxiety is diminishing as battery technology improves. My hon. Friend will know of the Faraday challenge, a cross-Government and industry commitment to not only improving battery manufacturing and technology, but creating some of that value here in the UK.
The UK is leading the world in decarbonising our energy supplies while driving down the cost of clean power. The proportion of our electricity coming from renewables has increased fourfold since 2010, and the cost of clean power is falling fast. The price of offshore wind has fallen by 50% in the last couple of years.
The Secretary of State has just recognised that there is considerable support for renewable energy throughout the country. My local community in High Peak have always been committed to that. “Archie”, the Archimedes’ screw in New Mills, is the first community-owned hydroelectric project. However, the Government are preventing people from becoming involved in renewable energy projects by removing the feed-in tariff and refusing to remove planning blocks on onshore wind, while forcing councils to plan positively for fracking. Will the Secretary of State recommend the scrapping of that policy, and instead require councils to plan positively for renewables?
I think the hon. Lady should recognise the huge progress that has been made, which is beyond what anyone would have expected 10 years ago when the Climate Change Act 2008 was passed. I commend her constituents for their contribution in respect of renewable power. However, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth has said, the right mechanism must be applied to the right technology. It is better to finance technologies in the early stages of development through innovation funding than to pretend that they can make a significant contribution to the grid.
A renewables mix is hugely important in securing our long-term energy supply, so will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss some of the contradictory barriers in place for solar power, for example, because there are limited technologies that are able to bid for support through the contract for difference scheme?
I will indeed meet my hon. Friend, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth will join that conversation. We have a good record in bringing on a range of new technologies and I am very happy to make sure there are no barriers to that.
There will now be a 9 GW cut in future installed capacity by 2030 as a result of Toshiba and Hitachi ending their plans to build three new nuclear power stations. The Secretary of State has also cancelled plans to build tidal lagoons possibly providing about that amount of additional capacity, has banned onshore wind and has run down new solar installations. He has severely limited the auction for new offshore wind to only £60 million of a possible £557 million. Does the Secretary of State agree that on present policies it looks like there will be a substantial capacity gap in power production against likely 2030 demand? Does he have any plan to deal with that? Does he have any plans to revive the lost nuclear power proposals? Does he share the Opposition’s view that, among other things, we will need at least 50 GW of installed offshore wind to help close the gap and meet our climate change commitments?
Quite the opposite is true. One of the reasons why it has proved impossible to finance privately some of these nuclear power stations is that the cost of renewables was falling and the availability was increasing so rapidly that they are being muscled out of the system. The forecast electricity margin for this year is now over 11%, the highest for five years. To put this into context for the hon. Gentleman, the contribution that the Wylfa nuclear power station—3 GW—would have made was procured in a single contract for difference auction for offshore wind. That shows the abundance that we have, rather than the shortage.
Feed-in Tariffs and Power Generation
Solar is a UK success story: 99% of the solar capacity in the UK has been installed since 2010 when I became an MP. The feed-in tariff, however, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is a very expensive way of delivering small-scale generation. It has cost us almost £6 billion to date, and as the price of solar panels has fallen by 80%—I can see the hon. Gentleman sighing but numbers and value for money tend to matter on the Government Benches—I decided to bring forward the smart export guarantee, which opens up the market for small-scale generations and ensures that everybody is paid for power they export to the grid.
From listening to the Government’s rhetoric on climate change, we could be forgiven for thinking that the school strikers are coming out in support of them; they are coming out against them, and if we cut through the greenwash we see the feed-in tariff axed, the solar energy sector decimated, and now the exports payments framework about to be ended and no replacement put in place. So let me ask this: will the Government ever announce a cut to the lavish support they dole out to their friends in the fossil fuel industry?
It is news to me that the Labour party’s policy is to be anti the oil and gas industry that employs so many hundreds of thousands of people. And when it comes to rhetoric, the hon. Gentleman should just go and practise in front of the bathroom mirror. I am happy to share the facts with him again—[Interruption.] Perhaps he is going to ask me to get on my knees next, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] What we do on the Government side of the House is focus on facts—[Interruption.] You know, Mr Speaker, the hon. Gentleman was very clear that he was not a misogynist bully boy; I think his activities and behaviour today suggests quite the opposite. If he would like me to answer the question——[Interruption.] The answer to the question is this: we have not slashed support for renewable energy. We are now moving to a point where renewable energy no longer requires subsidy to deploy. If the hon. Gentleman could just stop equating Government spending with success and look at the results, he will see that we do not subsidise things that we do not have to, which means we can focus on bringing other technologies to market.
Industrial Strategy: New Hospitals
On the question of whether hospital projects should be part of the industrial strategy, I absolutely agree. They are part of an industry in an area—health campuses, science, research and development, and, not least, modular construction and everything in our construction sector deal.
Together with the £400 million move of Public Health England to Harlow by 2024, a brand-new healthcare hospital campus would make Harlow the health science capital of the UK. Will my hon. Friend work with the Treasury to support capital funding for the desperately needed new hospital in Harlow?
My right hon. Friend could not be a greater champion for the Harlow hospital and health campus; in fact, I would honourably suggest that it should be named after him. However, he is absolutely right: the Treasury has to consider this and other bids, including the wonderful Watford General Hospital health campus, which I support. I am sure it will reach the right conclusion that these bids are fantastic for local areas—not just for the hospital but for industrial development for the future in those areas.
One of the frustrations about the dominance of our Brexit debates over the last two years is that insufficient attention is given to the fact that this is one of the most exciting times for British industry and commerce since the first industrial revolution, which was forged in this country. We are in the vanguard of so many of the industries of the future. Earlier this month, my right hon. Friend the Energy Minister was in Lowestoft and, again, in Grimsby to launch the offshore wind sector deal—the 10th sector deal in our industrial strategy. It is helping Britain to procure a third of its electricity through offshore power by 2020, to provide a lead right around the world and to export good technology.
I share my right hon. Friend’s optimism and enthusiasm for the opportunities that lie ahead for this country. Following the Chancellor’s statement last week, when specific measures were announced, which I welcome, could he elaborate on how he expects the UK to take a lead in science and innovation to develop new technologies for renewables, which he touched on, and new materials?
My right hon. Friend is correct that our reputation for science and innovation, and the standing of our universities, are among the best in the world. At a time when every country around the world is investing in the technologies of the future, we need to emphasise the abilities and talents we have. Through the industrial strategy, we have the biggest increase in public and private sector spending and innovation that we have ever had in this country. It is already making a difference, but we have more to do.
Our automotive sector is facing significant challenges. To quote the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders,
“There is a perfect storm of a hostile global trading environment, the imminent threat of significant tariffs on cars exported to the US, rising costs, technological revolution and the already damaging impact of Brexit on the UK industry”.
This perfect storm has already claimed some victims: Honda in Swindon, the loss of the production of the X-Trail and Infiniti models in Sunderland, and the loss of thousands of jobs at Jaguar Land Rover and Ford. The sector needs immediate and substantial support. Does the Secretary of State think the Government are doing enough?
I am glad the hon. Lady recognises the importance and effectiveness of our automotive sector. She is absolutely right that the acceleration of the shift to new technologies is affecting the sector in every country around the world. Through our industrial strategy, agreed with the automotive sector through the sector deal, and the Faraday challenge, we are advancing our position in battery technology. That makes sure that, when the new generation of batteries are produced, they are produced in Britain, guaranteeing our future.
Those are warm words from the Secretary of State, but actions speak louder. On Brexit, his Government have threatened a catastrophic no deal and run down the clock. On rising costs, the Government have allowed costs such as industrial electricity prices and business rates to disadvantage UK manufacturers. On electrification, the Government have allowed us to fall behind. The planned charging infrastructure investment fund is still not in operation 16 months after it was announced, and subsidies for electric vehicles have been cut. Is not the truth that this Government are failing to provide the automotive sector with the support it needs to weather this perfect storm?
We are the leading country in Europe when it comes to the production of electric vehicles, and as the hon. Lady is well aware, we have, through the industrial strategy, advanced our leadership position. However, if she listens to the leaders of the automotive sector, they say one thing time and again very clearly: we need to conclude a deal with the European Union. They have endorsed comprehensively the deal the Prime Minister has negotiated. If the hon. Lady is concerned for the future of this important sector, she would compromise and recognise the importance of bringing to an end this uncertainty and passing the deal.
Our business environment is among the best in the world. By reducing corporation tax and investing in skills, innovation and productivity-boosting schemes, we are supporting businesses to compete in an ever-changing market. Ensuring that businesses can access finance is key, and the British Business Bank has the tools to make that happen, including its enterprise finance guarantee scheme, start-up loans and our export strategy.
The hon. Gentleman is right that CO2 molecules do not care where they are emitted or where they have an impact. I am delighted to tell him that we are one of the world’s largest donors of climate-facing aid, with £5.8 billion over this Parliament, about half of which is spent on adaptation and half on mitigation. There is clearly more to do, but we should be proud of that record.
My hon. Friend speaks proudly of the hundreds of high-skilled jobs in his constituency, and there are hundreds of thousands such jobs across the UK. We are increasing R&D spend across the piece, but innovation in the oil and gas sector is driven through the almost £200 million investment in the oil and gas technology centre, which I have been pleased to visit, including £90 million from the Government.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I have been in discussion with the industry. The sector has participated in the development of the path to the decarbonisation of vehicles, and it is important that we are consistent with that. However, part of that process is about recognising that buying a diesel car is a perfectly reasonable choice for many people, but some people have got the wrong impression from the announcement.
My hon. Friend is a passionate campaigner in this area and for his constituents, and he knows that I would particularly like to tackle this matter. Insolvency practitioners must adhere to the insolvency code of ethics and must not allow conflicts of interest to override the fundamental principles of objectivity. Breaching the code may result in regulatory action, such as a fine, reprimand or, in the most serious of circumstances, the removal of a licence. The code is currently being updated by the recognised professional bodies that licence insolvency practitioners, but I will continue the dialogue with my hon. Friend on this matter.
The hon. Lady raises an important point, but she knows we are doing a lot in this area to strengthen employment rights for people in the workplace. We have the good work plan, we are looking at flexibility, we are increasing holiday pay and we are always looking at how we can improve the situation for workers, whether the self-employed or general workers.
The spring statement was indeed a statement for research, innovation and science. Looking at just one of those investments, there is £60 million to keep the Joint European Torus facility going, and there are hundreds of jobs and tens of PhDs at that facility. I am delighted that the Chancellor made that commitment as we move forward to 2.4% of GDP being spent on research and development by 2027.
Post offices are at the heart of our communities, so does the Minister welcome the news that Newick post office in my constituency, after being closed for months following the sad death of the postmaster, Terry, is set to reopen? Does she agree that we must do all we can to keep post offices open in our rural communities?
I thank my hon. Friend for the work she has done with her constituents, the Post Office and the community to make sure that the post office in Newick is reopened. Post offices play an important role in our communities, and we are committed to maintaining the network of 11,500 post offices with the support of MPs like her.
As the hon. Lady knows after our meeting yesterday afternoon to discuss this issue, we are committed to delivering and maintaining the post office network, which did not happen under the last Labour Government, when there was a reduction. As I have already outlined and made very clear, where there are concerns about specific branches, practices and consultations, I will personally raise them directly with the Post Office.
I am delighted that the Prime Minister was able to join my hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) and me to celebrate the success of the beginning of that deal. The next phase is about investment in skills, and I look forward to visiting Cleethorpes and Grimsby to inaugurate that important set of investments in the skills of the population.
At the last general election, Labour promised to introduce a “Post Bank” to combat financial exclusion and ensure that everyone has access to banking services in their community. Does the Secretary of State agree that introducing a Post Bank to provide banking services in post offices would do wonders for the high street, as well as reducing financial exclusion?
The hon. Gentleman gives me an opportunity to talk about the fact that we already offer banking services in our post offices. As I outlined earlier, we are doing the most we can to make sure that post offices and sub-postmasters are remunerated for the work they do.
Barclays has just announced another swathe of branch closures that affect my constituency, as the banks continue their flight from small towns and rural areas. Where does the Minister think all this will end? Does she agree that banks have a wider social obligation?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that banks have a wider social responsibility. That is why I am committed to working with the Post Office to make sure that under the new banking framework post offices are remunerated correctly for the service they are providing for communities that the banks have moved away from.
Fracking is bad for the environment, our health, our democracy, our landscape and even the courts. Does the Minister recognise that the Government are on shaky ground, quite literally, and will they ditch their support for this failing industry?
We have said repeatedly that the opportunity to create a home-grown energy source that provides thousands of jobs in parts of the country that economic policies have not been able to help, with the toughest regulations for oil and gas exploration in the world, is something that we should soberly and sensibly explore. That continues to be the case.
The switchover has already started. The priority is smart meters that have gone dumb through customers switching, because we do not want there to be an impediment to switching. The commitment is unchanged: it will be rolled out completely by the end of 2020.
A common feature of all patient safety scandals is that whistleblowers were ignored, intimidated or lost their careers, and were not protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. Will the Secretary of State bring forward legislation for all sectors to ensure that that concern is investigated and that whistleblowers are protected?
The hon. Lady addresses a very important area that I am extremely concerned about. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care on how we can best strengthen the protection for whistleblowers within the NHS to support families and staff who raise concerns. This is a key area for us and I will continue to communicate with her on it.
The hon. Gentleman says the unions are wrong—that is probably a first. People support fracking because of its potential to create jobs. [Interruption.] Crikey, if he would stop yelling. I must say that I feel desperately sorry for female Members on the Opposition Benches if this is how their colleagues treat them: being howled down, winked at—the other hon. Gentleman is not in his place—and having kisses blown after a question. The brocialists are in full control of the Labour party. I know that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) will accept that we need to explore the science sensibly and see whether there is a natural resource there, because when he was digging up coal, energy security used to matter.
Child Sexual Exploitation Victims: Criminal Records
Before I call the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) to ask her urgent question and the Minister to respond, I must advise right hon. and hon. Members that under the terms of the House’s resolution on matters sub judice, they should not refer to specific cases that are currently before the courts. It should not be beyond the ingenuity of right hon. and hon. Members to find ways of airing the issue without mentioning the specifics in a way that could threaten the legal process.
I am conscious that, as you outlined, Mr Speaker, this question relates to an ongoing legal case, and that as such it would not be appropriate to comment on the specific case or cases. I assure you that the Government want all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation to feel that they can come forward to report abuse, and get the support they need when they do so. We are committed to working across Government to ensure that victims can move on from the abuse they have suffered, and that professionals, including the police, who come into contact with a victim recognise exploitation when they see it and respond appropriately.
The Government are committed to acting to protect the public and help employers make safe recruitment decisions. The disclosure and barring regime plays an important part in supporting employers to make informed recruitment decisions about roles that involve working with children or vulnerable adults, and in a limited range of other circumstances. The criminal record disclosure regime seeks to strike a balance between safeguarding children and enabling individuals to put their offending behind them.
The House will be aware that the Supreme Court recently handed down a judgment in the case of P and others that affects certain rules governing the disclosure regime. We are still waiting for the order from the Supreme Court, but we are considering the implications of the judgment and will respond in due course. It is important to note, however, that the Supreme Court recognises that the regime balances public protection with individuals’ right to a private life. It applies only to certain protected jobs, and it is for employers to decide someone’s suitability for a role once they are armed with the facts.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. Just before Christmas, you welcomed Sammy Woodhouse to this Parliament. You, the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and the leader of the SNP all praised her bravery in speaking out and waiving her anonymity in order to protect other victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation. In that instance, we discussed CSE survivors’ experience in the family courts. It is good to see the Justice Minister in his place. I hope we can make progress on that issue.
Everyone in this House owes it to Sammy and all victims of child sexual exploitation to do everything in our power to reward her bravery and ensure that no one has to endure the appalling, unimaginable abuse that she experienced. We must all ensure that the state in all its forms no longer fails CSE survivors. They are forced to confront their past every day of their lives through the painful trauma that never leaves them, which many simply cannot escape. Their bravery in the face of all that has happened to them is humbling.
The victims are forced to live not only with their trauma but with convictions linked to their sexual exploitation in childhood. They are blighted by an obligation to disclose criminal convictions linked to past abuse. They are forced to tell employers and even local parent teacher associations about their past convictions. That punitive rule means that they simply cannot escape a past in which they were victims.
I understand your ruling that we are unable to refer to sub judice cases, Mr Speaker, but Sammy will not mind me referring to her record, which includes possession of an offensive weapon and affray. Both are explicitly linked to her grooming. When she was 15, the police raided the property of now-convicted serial rapist Arshid Hussain. Sammy was half-naked and hiding under his bed. Hussain was not detained, but Sammy was arrested and charged. She was a victim of exploitation and is now forced to disclose her criminal convictions—crimes she committed only through her exploitation.
Judges in the High Court have already ruled that forcing victims of CSE to disclose past convictions linked to CSE is unjust. They argued that
“any link between the past offending, and the assessment of present risk in a particular employment, is either non-existent or at best extremely tenuous.”
I ask the Minister, what is the Government’s position on record disclosure of CSE survivors?
One of the single biggest tasks of this Parliament and society is to create an environment in which victims of child sexual exploitation are given the best possible chance not to allow their past abuse to define them. Will the Minister consider bringing forward what is known as Sammy’s law, which would give CSE victims the right to have their criminal records automatically reviewed, and crimes associated with their grooming removed? At present, anyone has the right to apply to the chief constable of their force area to have their records reviewed, but it is little known. Surely there must be a specific case in those circumstances.
Child sexual exploitation is fundamentally about an imbalance of power that is used to coerce, manipulate and deceive. It leads many victims to commit crimes relating to their exploitation. I know the Minister will agree that it cannot be right that victims are forced to live with the consequences of their exploitation for the rest of their lives.
I thank the hon. Lady for her urgent question. She knows, because we have discussed the issue behind the scenes on many occasions, the concerns, feelings and sympathy that the Home Secretary and I have for victims of child sexual exploitation and abuse, and that this Government have done more than any other to tackle it. By setting up institutions such as the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, the Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, sought to uncover these terrible hidden crimes. We know of the experience in Rotherham, of course, and I note that the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) is in her place. I have seen for myself the vital local work to support victims and bring the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice.
I am afraid that I am not able to comment on individual cases at this moment—it is a matter of timing—but the Government are considering the Supreme Court judgment very carefully. Sadly, I am not in a position to comment on other aspects of the urgent question, but we have, I think, acknowledged as a society that when children initially present as suspects, the police and others must ask questions to see whether there is more to the picture. I am sure that we all agree on that, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to reiterate it.
This case, the details of which we are very carefully not discussing today, is particularly horrific. Does the Minister agree that the issue with child criminal records goes much wider than CSE? I urge her to read, if she has not already, the Justice Committee’s excellent report on the subject, and to meet me and a group of cross-party colleagues, as well as the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), in the near future to discuss how we can deal with these issues as a matter of urgency.
My hon. Friend feels—and, in fairness, has campaigned—strongly on this subject. I have read the report. She will appreciate that given the timing, I am constrained in what I can say, but I would be very happy to meet her. I should have said in my initial answer that I had the privilege of meeting Ms Woodhouse last year; she described to me in great detail her experiences as a child, and their impact on her as an adult. I very much valued the time she gave for that meeting. I look forward to meeting my hon. Friend and others to discuss their views on the disclosure regime, and any submissions that they wish to make to Ministers.
Sammy Woodhouse is to be commended for her courage and fortitude. Her campaign reminds us of the complex nature of child sexual abuse and its long-lasting consequences. She makes a very important point when she says that fear of being prosecuted may prevent victims from coming forward, and that criminal records may prevent survivors from moving on with their life.
Conscious of your warning, Mr Speaker, I will not say anything about the case in hand, but I point out that my colleagues in the Scottish Government are committed to preventing and tackling child sex abuse through a range of actions. Of course, grooming is a major issue; Police Scotland has emphasised that it is important that children should not be deterred from coming forward by a fear of having broken the law, and I know that the Minister will agree. In Scotland yesterday, Police Scotland launched the Stop it Now! campaign, which aims to drive home the message that the online grooming of children and young people is illegal and causes huge harm. This is one of the many areas where we really need to drive home the message that it is illegal for adults to have sexual conversations, online or offline, with young people. Does the Minister agree with the aims of the campaign to stop online and offline grooming in Scotland, and will she pledge her support for it?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her question. As she knows, we are very keen to work with colleagues across the United Kingdom, and to learn from best practice. I am pleased to hear of that campaign. With the help of the Mayor of London, we recently invested in a child house in London. I visited it recently; it is an amazing facility. Anyone who has worked with child victims—I know that several colleagues in the House have—will agree that the child house is a real step forward in making children feel comfortable in giving evidence, and in achieving the best evidence on behalf of those children. I am keen to see what more can be done in that area.
I am conscious that what is illegal online is just as important as what is illegal offline. The hon. and learned Lady will know the Home Secretary’s personal commitment to ensuring that industry’s response matches our expectations. That response should include a range of actions, such as stopping child grooming from taking place on companies’ platforms, building artificial intelligence to stop this material getting on to the web, and having much greater openness and transparency about how they are clearing out their backyard. Of course, the online harms White Paper is coming up as well, and I am sure that many colleagues will take a great interest in it.
Huge progress has been made since the Government’s CSE action plan, introduced back in 2011—even before the Savile revelations. It was based on encouraging victims to come forward and not regard CSE as being in some way their fault, and also on making sure that agencies did not try to sweep it under the carpet and were not in denial about cultural sensitivities—and even on making sure that they did not feel that children had brought this on themselves. What ongoing links does the Department have with survivors and victims of CSE? Are there facilities for those victims to meet and help educate judges, so that we can make sure that victims continue to be recognised as such, and not as being perpetrators in some way, and get the ongoing recognition and support that they desperately need?
I thank my hon. Friend. I note the work that he did as children’s Minister to bring about justice for these victims. The Home Office and I personally meet victims of historical and more recent child sexual abuse; I see it as an absolute privilege, and it is an essential part of my role. He is absolutely right that this is about not just law enforcement, but multi-agency working. There have been steps forward in improving that. For example, one of the reasons why we amended the Data Protection Act 1998 last year was to include a clause making it clear that professionals can share data to safeguard vulnerable people, including children, so that if they are worried about a child or vulnerable person, they can be confident that they absolutely must share data with other agencies that may have a role to play.
As for our ongoing work, we continue to fund targeted support for victims of child sexual exploitation and abuse. The police transformation fund, which helped to fund the child house, is another source of support for innovative projects that can help improve our response to this terrible crime.
The hon. Lady may be aware that we have set up the centre of expertise on child sexual abuse, which is undertaking groundbreaking work on the various typologies of child sexual offending—online, as much as offline, offending. We anticipate that that work will help police forces to address the many challenges that they face in investigating recent and historical examples of child sexual exploitation. We know that the criminal justice system has faced a particular challenge in bringing historical offenders to justice. I am very proud of the work that the police do to investigate historical child sexual abuse, and of the work that the criminal justice system does as a whole to give justice to those victims, but of course I accept that there is always more that can be done.
There should be no place for child sexual exploitation in our society. Will the Minister give us an update on how the police transformation fund is effecting real change in the way that police investigate crimes involving vulnerable young people?
The police transformation fund helps to fund innovative projects such as the child house, but also wider work across policing. The College of Policing has updated its guidance to make the point that children who, at first glance, appear to be suspects must be looked into to ensure that they themselves are not in fact victims.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. As I have said, we are investing in innovative projects through the police transformation fund, which will help. The point of the child house is that it brings together all the agencies that may be able to help to look after a child. There is also a great deal of work going on in policing to ensure that children are intervened on before harm happens, and this includes helping to fund regional organised crime units to increase the undercover online capability, which we know is being used to target the online grooming of children.
The victims of child sexual exploitation have the ability to choose taken away from them in so many aspects of their lives, including with regard to behaviour that can potentially lead to them picking up offences. Does the Minister agree that it is important to promote the ways in which such situations can currently be reviewed, pending the introduction of a system that could help take away the lifetime legacy of offences that those victims did not really have freedom of choice about committing?
Unfortunately, once again, the Minister’s response is the same as the one that we get from the Home Office, which is that it is for the employer to decide, and frankly that is just not good enough. It shows a failure in the Home Office to recognise the fundamental flaws both in the policy and implementation of the disclosure and barring scheme. We must allow people, particularly victims of CSE, to rebuild their lives. Why will she not dump the dogma and sort out the faulty DBS before it blights even more lives?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman has a long history of campaigning on this matter, and he asked me about the system recently in Home Office questions. I remind him gently that the Supreme Court found that it was a coherent scheme of legislation. We are considering that judgment very carefully, because, of course, we must balance the rights of the individual against the rights of wider society in safeguarding the most vulnerable people in our communities.
It is clearly evident that, as part of their grooming, children are coerced into getting criminal records, whether through child sexual exploitation or drugs and gangs. That has the desired effect in that it prevents the children from going to the police, but it also damages for life their employment and, most perversely, their likelihood of getting compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. Will the Minister please give guidance to the police, the judges and the Crown Prosecution Service to consider holistically that, when a child is presented with a criminal activity, it could be part of grooming?
I remember being incredibly moved, but also impressed, by the work of the hon. Lady’s local police and safeguarding teams when I visited her constituency last year. The fact that the College of Policing guidance has been updated and improved to reflect the situation that she has described will have an impact on law enforcement, but of course, yet again, we ask all agencies to work together to ensure that these children are intervened on before real harm is committed.
Given that the High Court judges have already ruled that CSE victims’ convictions are unjust, and that any link between past offending and current risk is either non-existent or tenuous, does the Minister think that we should ask some form of independent commission to advise the House on whether there needs to be a change in the law or regulations?
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was in his seat when Mr Speaker said that this case is sub judice, so I cannot comment at this point. On the wider point about an inquiry, he will know that the independent inquiry on child sexual abuse was set up precisely to lift the stones on this terrifying and terrible subset of crime. There are all sorts of strands of work going on through that inquiry at the moment. We are considering with great care the reports that have been submitted already, with a view to not just Government but the whole of society looking at where these problems exist.
Only a month ago, 55 men were arrested in Batley and Spen for historical child sexual exploitation. The women who came forward are, of course, absolutely amazing. They are spectacular people with great courage. My concern is that this case is in the papers and in the House. Will that be a block to other young women in Kirklees and more widely across the country coming forward, as they will be scared about being treated like criminals? They are scared that, when they have their own children and want to contribute to society and join charities, parent-teachers associations or whatever, they will be treated like criminals. That cannot be fair.
I cannot comment on the specific case that the hon. Lady has raised. She makes an important general point about the way that we treat victims as they come forward. The criminal justice system has improved in the way that it looks after victims in the course of giving their evidence. Special measures can also be put in place, but, as always, if colleagues are aware of cases where the court system is not applying the rules as carefully as it should, they should please let me or Justice Ministers know. We are very keen that when victims are giving evidence, we do right by them and treat them fairly in the court process.
Girls and vulnerable young women in Newcastle suffered horrendous sexual abuse, rape and exploitation and yet found the courage to work with the police and social services to bring perpetrators to justice. As we have heard, the consequences can last a lifetime, and the support that we offer them should last a lifetime, too—I am talking about the kind of support that is provided by the sexual exploitation hub in Newcastle, for example. I know that the Minister recognises that and knows that we are talking about decades, not simply months, of support. What funding is available to provide support so that these victims can rebuild their lives and have the futures that they deserve?
The hon. Lady has raised this with me, and the project that she mentions is doing great work in the north-east. We do have a stream of funding mechanisms, which I am very happy to discuss with her afterwards, but she is right to say that historic child sexual abuse has not just an impact in the immediate term, but emotional, mental and physical consequences for many, many years afterwards. We must find a way of supporting victims in the longer term as well as in the short term.
There is a handful of people whose views should be forgotten, and that is that increasing number of commentators and politicians who suggest that this is a waste of money. I have dealt pretty much every week, and certainly every month over the past five years, with those who have survived this abuse, and that includes this week. I can tell the Minister that this question of criminality, with its impact in respect of custody, housing and employment, but also in respect of ongoing reputation for those who have managed to move on in their lives, is fundamental to why the vast majority of people affected have not come forward, despite the fact that I represented more than 30 during the three weeks of the Nottinghamshire inquiry. As all these issues have been aired during the inquiry in huge detail, will the Minister give a guarantee that the recommendations, when they come forward from this inquiry, will be implemented lock, stock and barrel by the Government?
The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the fact that what is important is not only how the criminal justice system and other agencies react to this issue, but how we in this place react to it. The choice of language that we use is vital, and I want to make it absolutely clear that it is the policy of this Government that we will always be on the side of the victims of child sexual abuse, and we will always seek to secure justice for them.
Clydesdale Bank and SMEs
Before I call the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) to ask her urgent question and the Economic Secretary to the Treasury to respond, I must again advise Members that, under the terms of the House’s resolution on matters sub judice, they should not refer to specific cases that are currently subject to legal proceedings; Members may of course speak to the general issues.
The Government are committed to ensuring a strong, diverse and dynamic economy, where small businesses can access the credit they require in order to prosper and grow. As such, we expect the highest standards of behaviour across the financial sector, which is why a number of necessary changes have been introduced to restore public trust in financial services, such as the senior managers and certification regime. Although it would be inappropriate for me to intervene in individual cases, particularly when they are subject to ongoing legal proceedings, we must always remember the human element to each case. That is why the Government have been consistently clear that, where there has been inappropriate treatment of SMEs by their bank, it is vital that those businesses can resolve their disputes and obtain fair redress.
At the Budget last autumn, the Government set out their support for the Financial Conduct Authority’s plans to expand eligibility to complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service to small businesses and micro- enterprises. This will ensure that, from 1 April 2019, well over 99% of all UK businesses will have access to fast, free and fair dispute resolution. The Government have also been clear that banks need to work hard to restore businesses’ trust in their institutions, and have welcomed the banking industry’s commitment to establish two independent voluntary ombudsman schemes to resolve SME disputes.
I am extremely pleased that last week my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) agreed to sit on the steering group responsible for implementing these schemes, alongside Nikki Turner from the SME Alliance. That follows several months of intense engagement with the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking. Although eligibility for the scheme to address historical complaints will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis, I encourage all SMEs that believe that they are eligible to apply once the scheme is up and running in September.
I am pleased that the sale of loan portfolios to third parties is now covered by the standards of lending practice—overseen by the Lending Stand